Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Epigenetic impacts on emotional well-being

Epigenetics and emotional well-being:
How can epigenetics influence emotional well-being?

Overview edit

Epigenetics is the study of the way the environment and behaviours can change the way that genes work within the body. Genes shape the brain and affect various cognitive functions, such as learning processes, through a complex interaction with multiple environmental factors (Beuno, 2021). The main focus of epigenetics is to understand the mechanisms that control how genes switch 'on and off' with no modification in the DNA of the cells.

Epigeneitcs[spelling?] was originally introduced by Waddington, in order to link the developmental biology and genetics (Holiday, 2006). Epigenetics has become a popular explanation for complex diseases of unknown origin or non-medical factors presented[awkward expression?]. It is important to have a deep understanding, one that is relevant to the study in order to find accurate treatment responses for patients.

Epigenetics has shown great promise in its connections between epigenetic and emotional well-being. Research has been conducted (Weinhold, 2006) linking epigenetics to a wide variety of illnesses and behaviours including various cancers, cognitive dysfunction, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, reproductive, autoimmune and neurobehavioral illnesses. While most research is connected to the tactile medical field, it must also be considered how epigenetics can influence ones[grammar?] mental health and well-being. Factors that are likely to predict your wellness are known as determinants of health and largely consist of self regulated behaviours such as stress, smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and lack of physical activity (NSW Health, 2010).

Pluess and Szyf (2015) analysed epigienetics and well-being, predominantly focusing on optimal adaptation to the environment. This explored the environmental factors in connection to heritability and genetics and its influences on well-being. Using epigenetics as a reference provides doctors, scientists and researchers the opportunity for greater understanding in non-medical factors across all determinants[vague].

Focus questions

  • What is epigenetics?
  • What is emotional well-being?
  • How can epigenetics be used to understand emotional well-being?
  • How do social determinants of health impact the epigenetics and emotional well-being of an individual?

What is epigenetics? edit

Figure 1. Epigenetics Mechanisms. 2005. National Institutes of Health.

[Provide more detail]

Epigenetics edit

The definition of epigenetics is under constant debate in biomedicine. Its knowledge and concepts have evolved a long way since 1939 by Conrad Hal Waddington[awkward expression?]. Since then, scholars and researchers are constantly trying to find appropriate ways to define such a complex mechanism.

Most scholars can agree that it is the interactions between the environment and the DNA through modification on the chromatin. This is responsible for the expression of a phenotype that can develop in various pathologies (Villora-Salazar, Mendoza-Mendoza, Gonzalez-Prieto, 2016).

Epigenetics itself therefore is the 'study of changes in gene function that are heritable and that do not entail a change in DNA sequence' (Wu, Morris, 2001).

DNA methylation edit

DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that is used to control gene expression. It is one method in which cells are able to create an epigenetic mark (Notterman, 2016).

DNA is a tightly coiled protein called histones[grammar?]. Histone proteins have several sites at which they can be covalently modified through methylation. These changes can relax the DNA providing regulatory sites for interactions with various transcriptional activator proteins. These changes are known as epigenetic marks.


1 Epigenetics it is the interactions between the environment and the DNA through modification on the chromatin[grammar?].


2 DNA methylation is a method used in order for cells to [missing something?] an epigenetic mark.


What is Emotional Well-Being? edit

Emotional well-being is largely considered an important psychological aspect in an individuals[grammar?] life, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. With environmental changes to everyday life, it is crucial that emotional and mental well-being is being looked after.

Emotional well-being edit

Figure 2 The eight dimensions of wellness and emotional well-being. 2017. DaisyFig.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines well being as "a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well" (CDC, 2021). In an every[spelling?] changing world, emotional well-being is an important aspect to consider. The CDC (2021) provided a list of different types of emotional well-being as part of their state[say what?] research on mental health. These [what?] include physical, economic, social and emotional well-being, life satisfaction, development and activity and engaging activities and work.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, well-being has never been more important with social distancing, lockdowns and stay at home orders being implemented. Environmentally, being able to find a stability in our emotions is becoming difficult with these practises[spelling?] being put in place, and required to be considered a 'new-normal'.

Emotional well-being itself includes characteristics such as a positive mood and high self-esteem. In 1947 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing (WHO, 1947). It emphasises the importance of emotional wellbeing for a healthy lifestyle. This statement is supported by an increasing body of epidemiological, social science, and experimental research that is beginning to suggest that initiatives which aimes[spelling?] to promote physical wellbeing to the exclusion of mental and social wellbeing may be doomed to failure. Here is where epigenetics can play an important role in aiding the emotional state of individuals.

The Schachter-Singer two-factor theory of emotion edit

The Schachter-Singer theory is considered to be a variation of the Cannon-Bard Theory and the James-Lange Theory all of which explore the nature of emotions are [say what?] how it is developed. In 1962, scholars Schachter and Singer demonstrated that people search the immediate environment in order to find emotionally relevant cues to characterise and understand unexplained physiological arousal (Robert, Sinclaire, Hoffman, Mark, Leonard, Martin, Pickering, 1994).

The Schachter-Singer theory takes into account two important factors, physiological arousal and the emotional experience of the individual. According to this theory, emotions are made of physiological and cognitive emotions. Physiological arousal is considered as in the content to produce the emotional experience[awkward expression?]. This theory depends on labelling the physiological experience along with the type of cognitive appraisal.


1 Emotional well being includes characteristics such as feeling happy, joy and confidence.


How can epigenetics be used to understand emotional well-being? edit

[Provide more detail]

Application on mental health edit

Epigenetics is becoming more useful towards aspects of normal behaviour and in the pathogenesis of mental illnesses. When considering mental illnesses, many will consider both the physical and the psychological impacts.

Within clinic management of mental illness, epigenetics has the potential to provide many useful roles. In relation to a diagnosis, epigenetics can provide suitable biomarkers in order for clinicians to better understand the history and the relationships. For preventative measures, mental illness could be pursued by interventional modalities such as epigenetic therapy, drugs for corrective epigenetic defects, psychotherapy, and physical exercise and nutritional management (Peedicayil, 2014).

Prevention and Treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders edit

Epigenetic biomarkers can play an important role in the treatment and prevention of certain psychiatric disorders, ones that can influence and heavily impact ones[grammar?] emotional well-being. This is explored through the epigenetically altered genes or expression patterns of certain proteins in psychiatric disorders (Peedicayil, 2009).

Interventional modalities - epigenetic therapy, corrective epigenetics defects and psychotherapy. edit

Most of the research towards epigenetic therapy and drugs used for corrective epigenetic defects have[grammar?] focused on the design and development of drugs and medications that target DNA methylation and inhibition of particular enzymes (Roth, Lubin, Sodhi, Kleinman, 2009). The use of these drugs or other epigenome-influencing techniques offers a way to influence the pathways directly, therefore addressing the epigentics[spelling?] that influence their[who?] mental illness.

In psychotherapy, there is profound evidence that psychotherapy exerts the [what?] effects on patients with mental illness through their epigenetic mechanisms. Psychotherapy has the potential to induce epigenetic changes in brain circuits "to enhance the efficacy of information during malfunctioning symptoms in psychiatric disorders" (Stahl, 2011). Epigenetic mechanisms in gene expression are considered to be an "interface between the environment and the genome in the pathogenesis of disorders" (Peedicayil, 2012). Environmental factors such as psychosocial factors play a crucial role in mental disorders. Epigenetic mechanisms can be reversible, and as suggested through psychotherapy, could aid in correcting certain disorders. Research is still needed to be conducted using brain tissue in order to gain a better understanding of its impacts and influences towards treatment and preventative measures.

Physical Activity and Nutritional Management edit

Nutrition and an individuals[grammar?] active lifestyle can influence their epigenetic pathway or epigenome that causes changes in gene expression. Nutritional epigenetics is a relatively new field of research, however it overlooks the effects of hematopoetic drugs and folic acid, all of which focus on the production and the increase of healthy red and white blood cells.

Nutritional management can be considered from all ages, genders, and disorders. As epigenetics begins from the moment a child is conceived, abnormal nutrition during prenatal and post-natal life can influence the behaviour during their adult life through epigenetic mechanisms. It is crucial that as the child is growing and developing from within the mother, that her nutritional management is monitored to enable a better chance against influences towards the child's' emotional well being. For example, a deficiency in folic acid can result in depression and depressive symptoms (Peedicayil, 2012).

Furthermore, physical activity is a great influence on mental illnesses with the ability to allow for calm and peaceful environment. Physical exercise can benefit the mind and body partially through epigenetic mechanisms. Scholars Wallace, Twomey, Custaud & Turner (2017) overlooked the role of epigenetics in cardiovascular health. This research concluded that epigenetics display a strong potential for epigenetic intervention for effective cardiovascular management strategies. This will allow for benefits to ageing and other traditional well-being factors as one ages.

Case study

Figure 3. China Beggars, Victim of Chinese Famine, between 1905 and 1926. United States of America

Susser and Lin (1992) conducted a case study based on the nutritional value of individuals during 1944-1945, known as the Dutch hunger Winter famine in Germany due to World War II. They investigates whether first-trimester exposure to food deprivation increases the risk factor of developing schizophrenia. Their research demonstrated that severe food deprivation (with a daily average of under 4200kj) during the first trimester showed an increase in hospitalized schizophrenia for women but not men. These finds[spelling?] gave plausible reason to believe that early prenatal nutrition can have an increased risk to schizophrenia, however is concluded to be gender-specific.

Similarly, 1959-1961, known as the Chinese famine also has researchers curious about how early gestation during these famines might impact the increased risk of developing schizophrenia during adulthood. Case studies were presented in order to determine the risk factor and its impacts on offspring.

Peedicayil (2012) supported these findings in exploring that the increased risk of schizophrenia in such individuals is due to nutritional deficiency specifically that of folic acid. Folic acid ensures red blood cell formation and healthy cell growth (Herbert, 1965). It is particularly important for pregnant women to take folic acid as the body needs more of it to develop the baby's nervous system.

Social Determinant of Health edit

[Provide more detail]

Social Determinants of Child Health edit

Social determinant[grammar?] of health refers to the non-medical factors that influence health, such as their values, attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour. External sources such as family, neighbours, and social networks are also considered as influencing factors. Epigenetic research has demonstrated that alterations in DNA methylation can be a causal link between social adversity and health disparity. This also draws connections to the loss of protective ends of chromosomes called telomeres that link to chronic stress and physiological[say what?] stigma associated with mental health and well-being. Recent research on epigenetic regulation has demonstrated that life experiences can directly influence genetic function through the alteration of epigenetic patterns in the genome. It is crucial that environmental influences on DNA are considered when looking at the influences on emotional well-being. Adverse early life experiences have been linked to differences in epigenetic patterns that relate to mental health and obesity.

Reflective Question:

Do you feel that social determinants change your emotions, therefore change your behaviour[grammar?]? Does this make you feel more aware of environmental factors that can have such impacts?

Case Study

In recent times, there has been converging evidence that offspring are affected by parental trauma exposure either before their birth or even prior to conception. Intergenerational transmission of Holocaust experience has been focused on specifically relating to trauma. Studies have been conducted in regards to the Holocaust survivors and the psychological impacts on their offspring. Disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Schizophrenia are the most common disorders to be addressed after the war and or traumatic events.

Figure 4. Erklärvideo zum Holocaust, September 2013. Ton und Schnitt, Germnay.

Yeduda, Wainberg, Brynes, and Duvdevani (1998) presented empirical data in relation to the second-generation Holocaust. Scholars examined the levels of stress and exposure to trauma, their current and overall PTSD experience in a group of adult offspring of Holocaust survivors ensuring a similar demographic was present. The results showed that adult offspring of Holocaust survivors [missing something?] did not experience more traumatic events, they had a greater susceptibility to current and lifetime PTSD and other psychiatric disorders. They concluded an increased vulnerability to PTSD and other psychiatric disorders, therefore, placing this group as a high-risk factor for PTSD.

Furthermore, Sigal (1987) and Trossman (1968), proposed that the psychiatric distress of the young reflect on a "survivor syndrome" as coined by Niederland in 1968, that is transmitted from one generation to the next (Wiseman, Barber, Raz, Yam, Foltz, Livne-Snir, 2002).


1 Psychopathology highlights important findings that not all people with mental illness are devoid of well-being.


2 There is evidence to suggest that traumatic events such as War and the Holocaust can impact future generation


Conclusion edit

Epigenetics has been considered for many aspects of psychological, physical and mental issues[awkward expression?]. Epigenetics could be used as a successful means of understanding environmental influences on emotional wellbeing and even those of mental health. Recent epigenetic research however is showing more advancements towards medical procedures and conditions such as cancer and diseases such as cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic disease. Researchers are focusing predominantly on the effects through tactile medical conditions, leaving the psychological conditions behind. Epigenetics has the ability to draw on environmental and non-medical factors to explore and explain the reasons being[awkward expression?] mental health. This can be done through understanding the expression of genes and the environment to produce individual differences in behaviour, cognition, personality and mental health. Through looking at ones[grammar?] environment and external experiences, a deeper understanding can be drawn. Further research however needs to be conducted to enable a deeper understanding of its influences to emotional well-being[vague]. It is also crucial for further developments in treatment and preventative measures for patients[Provide more detail].

Emotion is at the core of health or coping behaviours, which from this discussion has shown to come from environmental factors, epigenetics.

See also edit

[present in alphabetical order]

References edit

Bueno, D. (2021). Epigenetics and learning. How the environment shapes gene expression, and the possible consequences for learning and behaviour. ''Epigenetics''.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). What is Epigenetics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Well-Being Concepts.

Herbert, V. (1965). Folic acid. Annual review of medicine, 16(1), 359-370.

Holliday, R. (2006). Epigenetics: a historical overview. Epigenetics, 1(2), 76-80. https://doi:10.4161/epi.1.2.2762

McEwen, B. S. (2016). In pursuit of resilience: stress, epigenetics, and brain plasticity. ''Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences'', ''1373''(1), 56-64.

Notterman, D. A., & Mitchell, C. (2015). Epigenetics and understanding the impact of social determinants of health. Pediatric Clinics, 62(5), 1227-1240. https://10.1016/j.pcl.2015.05.012

NSW Health. (2021). Health and wellbeing. NSW Government.

Peedicayil, J. (2009). Epigenetic biomarkers in psychiatric disorders. British journal of pharmacology, 155(6), 795-796.

Peedicayil, J. (2012). Role of epigenetics in pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and nutritional management of mental disorders.Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 37(5), 499-501.

Peedicayil, J. (2014). Epigenetics and the war on mental illness. Molecular psychiatry, 19(9), 960-960. https://

Roth, T. L., Lubin, F. D., Sodhi, M., & Kleinman, J. E. (2009). Epigenetic mechanisms in schizophrenia. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-General Subjects, 1790(9), 869-877. https://doi:10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.06.009

Sigal, J. J., & Weinfeld, M. (1987). Mutual involvement and alienation in families of Holocaust survivors. Psychiatry, 50(3), 280-288. https://DOI:10.1080/00332747.1987.11024359

Sinclair, R. C., Hoffman, C., Mark, M. M., Martin, L. L., & Pickering, T. L. (1994). Construct accessibility and the misattribution of arousal: Schachter and Singer revisited. Psychological Science, 5(1), 15-19.

Stahl, S. M. (2012). Psychotherapy as an epigenetic ‘drug’: psychiatric therapeutics target symptoms linked to malfunctioning brain circuits with psychotherapy as well as with drugs. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 37(3), 249-253. https://doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2710.2011.01301.x.

Susser, E. S., & Lin, S. P. (1992). Schizophrenia after prenatal exposure to the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944-1945. Archives of general psychiatry, 49(12), 983-988. https://doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1992.01820120071010

Szyf, M., & Pluess, M. (2015). Epigenetics and well-being: Optimal adaptation to the environment. Genetics of psychological well-being. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 211-230.

Wallace, R. G., Twomey, L. C., Custaud, M. A., Turner, J. D., Moyna, N., Cummins, P. M., & Murphy, R. P. (2018). The role of epigenetics in cardiovascular health and ageing: A focus on physical activity and nutrition. Mechanisms of ageing and development, 174, 76-85. https://doi:10.1016/j.mad.2017.11.013 Villota-Salazar, N. A., Mendoza-Mendoza, A., & González-Prieto, J. M. (2016). Epigenetics: from the past to the present. ''Frontiers in Life Science'', ''9''(4), 347-370.

Weinhold, B. (2006). Epigenetics: the science of change 111(3). https://doi:10.1289/ehp.114-a160

Wiseman, H., Barberb, J. P., Raza, A., Yama, I., Foltzb, C., & Livne-Snira, S. (2002). Parental communication of Holocaust experiences and interpersonal patterns in offspring of Holocaust survivors. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26(4), 371-381. https://DOI:10.1080/01650250143000346

World Health Organisation. (1948) WHO Constitution.

Wu, C. T., & Morris, J. R. (2001). Genes, genetics, and epigenetics: a correspondence. Science, 293(5532), 1103-1105. https://doi:10.1126/science.293.5532.1103

Yehuda, R., Schmeidler, J., Wainberg, M., Binder-Brynes, K., & Duvdevani, T. (1998). Vulnerability to posttraumatic stress disorder in adult offspring of Holocaust survivors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(9), 1163-1171. https://DOI:10.1176/ajp.155.9.1163

External links edit

[present in alphabetical order]What is Epigenetics (CDC, 2021).